'Mellow,' thankful robber holds up La Center convenience store

He told clerk he needed cash because son was in hospital

By John Branton, Columbian Staff Reporter

Published:

Updated: October 25, 2011, 9:12 PM

 

You couldn’t pick a nicer robber than the guy who strolled into the Paradise Truck Stop in La Center early Monday.

“As far as robberies go, it was very mellow,” said Police Chief Tim Hopkin.

About 3:30 a.m., the robber walked into the store just off Interstate 5 at Paradise Park Road.

He was calm, cool and collected.

He was nicely dressed, 6 feet tall or taller, clean-shaven and in his 30s, with short brown hair under a green cap.

Unlike most robbers, Hopkin said, “He was very clean-appearing and looked healthy. He didn’t appear to be homeless.”

He told the 21-year-old clerk: “I have a gun in my pocket and I need all the money from the cash register.”

“Excuse me?” she replied.

The man repeated his first statement and, referring to the gun he claimed was in his pocket, said, “I don’t want to have to use it. Please.”

No gun was ever seen.

The robber told the clerk he needed the money because his son was in a hospital with a broken neck.

As the man began walking outside with the cash, he headed toward the side door.

The clerk told him that door was locked, and he said, “Thank you and God bless you.”

“He walked out of the store like he’d just bought a pack of gum,” Hopkin said.

When police arrived, a tracking dog sniffed out a trail that ended behind the store, where the robber likely entered a waiting car, Hopkin said.

Hopkin said police don’t know if the man really has a son in a hospital with a broken neck. Officers were trying to check hospitals while navigating strict federal medical privacy laws that restrict what hospital employees can reveal.

Even if the robber’s story is true, Hopkin said, “It certainly doesn’t justify armed robbery.”

He added: “The sad thing is, when we catch him, what kind of help to his family will he be when he’s incarcerated?”

The man didn’t appear to notice the store’s high-quality security cameras.

Hopkin said he’s been La Center’s police chief around 16 years, and he had to think a moment to recall any previous robberies, let alone polite ones.

“We had our bank hit in the 1990s and, prior to that, it’s just been years and years and years.”

Officers have posted fliers about the robbery around town and in the local cardrooms but, as of Tuesday evening, had no tips leading to a suspect.

Anyone seeing the robbery suspect is asked to call 911; those with information are asked to call the La Center Police Department at 360-263-2745.

John Branton: 360-735-4513 or john.branton@columbian.com.